When building materials companies are trying to find out how to grow their sales, they frequently ask the wrong questions. An important question that they usually don’t ask, is what is our competitor doing right?
I was reminded of this while walking the Builders’ Show with a building materials manufacturer. I do these walk arounds so I can have a look at the competitors’ booths and see what they’re doing right.
I Ask Myself Things Like:
- Is there a lot of traffic at their booth?
- Why do they have this amount of traffic?
- How are they presenting their products?
- Are they introducing a new product or feature?
- What messages are they using to convince the builder that they’re a better choice?
- Are they presenting their story in a unique or creative way?
- What are they doing better?
For every positive observation I made, the manufacturer walking with me would find a reason to shoot it down. He’d tell me why:
- It wasn’t such a good idea
- His was better
- It’s a waste of money
- Customers don’t care about this
- The claims they’re making can’t be true
- If his company had that much money, they could do that too
When I showed him Katerra’s booth and explained how they are going to revolutionize the industry, he assured me that they would fail and nothing would change. It’s like he had his head in the sand (sadly, that’s not uncommon in the building materials industry).
How I (And You Should) Study the Competition
When I work with a building materials company, I perform an audit of their competitor’s marketing and find out how customers feel about them.
I am looking for what they’re doing right and what they’re doing better than we are. I am also looking for where they are performing poorly to find opportunities my client can take advantage of.
I don’t just check out their trade show exhibits. I also study their website. I look at whether they are using social media and how. I analyze their SEO. Do they have a blog or engage in content marketing, and how good is it? If they are running print ads, I review them.
Then I find out what it’s like to deal with them. I contact them and see what happens. I will request samples or a quote and see what I get. I look at whether they are using marketing automation and if they are using it effectively. What I find isn’t always pretty – you would be shocked at how often I get no response or follow-up.
I’ll meet with customers, who are usually only too happy to show me any sales or marketing materials that have been left by the competition. I also interview the customers to get their opinions about my client and their competitors.
I also look into my crystal ball to see what changes are coming that can either be a threat or an opportunity for my client – like Katerra.
Two Types of Building Materials Companies
There are two types of building materials companies: the ones who really want to know how they can grow their sales and the ones who just want their beliefs reaffirmed.
There is a defensiveness in many companies. They don’t want to hear the truth and face reality. They often have an unhealthy, negative obsession with the competition that keeps them from seeing things clearly. Instead of taking an honest look at what their competitor is doing, they assume anything the competition is doing must be wrong.
Hearing them talk about the competition, you’d think you were listening to the guy next to you at the bar talking about his ex-wife or a Democrat talking about Trump. But here’s the hard truth: if you’re losing sales to them, they must be doing something right. And what they’re doing right is almost never the simple, obvious thing you think it is, like having a lower price.
There can also be a groupthink problem in building materials companies where everyone spends their time convincing each other how right they are.
These companies are guilty of believing their own stuff.
The other problem I see is a lack of self-confidence. If their thinking is challenged, they worry people will wonder why they didn’t see the problem themselves. So, instead of addressing the issue, they bluff their way forward in an attempt to protect their image internally.
Most people make the best decision they could, based on the information they had at that time. But when someone like me comes in and gives them new info, they should be ready to use it to make a better decision. Unfortunately, too many companies have a culture that discourages this.
Start Asking the Right Questions
When you’re looking at a competitor, it’s easy to see what they’re doing wrong. You’re looking for it, so it sticks out. But when you are focused on what they’re doing wrong, you become blind to what they’re doing right – and how you could improve.
It takes more effort and interest to find out what the competition is doing well, right or better than you.
If you want to grow your sales, you need to ask better questions. Why not start with “What is our competitor doing right?